Strawberry Paradise 

Summer is finally here and I am fully in jelly-making-mode.  I want to preserve all the delicious flavors of summer in a hundred different ways.


Recently, I’ve been busy with rhubarb and elder flowers, and now strawberry is where it’s at.  This Spring I preemptively prepared a strong tee made from freshly picked sweet woodruff on one of my hikes bc it pairs wonderfully with strawberry.


Yesterday we drove out to the small town of Wolkersdorf where there is a strawberry plantation, and we picked 9 pounds of tiny super intensely flavored strawberries.


It’s hard work picking strawberries, and I have really soar thighs today from crouching through strawberry patches for 2 hours.  It was well worth it however!  Ironically, there were so many people who passed by us and we continuously heard “there are no more strawberries left to pick”.  I guess they don’t know that you really have to get down on your hands and knees to find them hiding in the shade of their own leaves.


As you can see from our bounty, we picked quite a few white-tipped strawberries.  We did this on purpose since partially ripe berries have a stronger more intense flavor, and when made into jams and jellies the flavor come out better.

I spent an hour plucking off the green tops, but it was well worth it – the smaller the berry the more flavor that is jam-packed inside.  And, of the nine pounds of berries I made strawberry jam, strawberry-sweet woodruff jam, strawberry-tarragon jam, strawberry-kiwi jam, and strawberry-chocolte-mint jam.  A little goes a long way and there are so many combinations.  Another favorite of mine is strawberry-pineapple jam.

No matter what combination of fruit I use, I always use a 3:1 ratio of fruit to sugar, and top off each boiling pot with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon.  Get out and get jamming to preserve the flavors of summer!

Erlebnisbauernhof Auhof


Today we decided to visit our “colleagues” at the Erlebnisbauernhof Auhof (Experience-Farm of Auhof) which is a special-education farm run by mentally handicapped adults and caregivers.


The farm is open to the general public and has a really big playground that kids of all ages can enjoying.  Many decades ago, this used to be a real farm where they raised livestock and grew carrots and potatoes.  Today there a a few animals of each kind: pigs, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, peacocks, horses, goats, and donkeys are “scattered” around the different areas of the farm.  They sell plants in a self-run nursery and grow a lot of their own vegetables that you can enjoy in the salads that sell in a small restaurant with outdoor seating next to the playground.  The playground is capped off by a field of fruit trees and a lovely relaxation garden that is cared for by a former employee who is retired and volunteers her time to keep the garden in tip top shape.  The handicapped people who live in assisted-living apartments a block away come here regularly to enjoy the peacefulness of the garden, get their hands dirty with garden work, and do arts and crafts that are hung up in the different corners of the garden.


This is such a lovely oasis, and they are different events being held all summer long.  There is no entry fee, so this is a great palce to visit with the whole family’s.


Father’s Day Hiking 

Today we went for a nice short hike around the forest surrounding the town of Heroldsberg.  There a quite a few natural elements to see around here in the line of caves and stone formations.


It was father’s day so there were a lot of families hiking the same path as us, and however much I enjoy being in the forest when it’s silent, I think it’s great for families to get out in nature together.


Happy Father’s Day to all the dass out there.

Trekking to Bird Island


We are taking advantage of the beautiful weather around here and drove out to Muhr am See – a tiny town on the Altmühlsee (Old Mill Lake).  From here we gave the kids the task of leading the way to the lake where we wanted to visit the Vogelinsel (Bird Island) – a sanctuary built in the 80s for the local bird population.


I was a bit sceptical about the kids leading the way, but we made it – by walking through a field – to the island.  The sanctuary is actually made up of many little islands and visitors can only reach a few by way of a series of bridges.  It is a beautiful walk through shaddy grove.  We didn’t see birds along our entire walk, but we definitely heard them, and there is a great lookout post built on one of the islands close to a beach filled with tons of different birds.  We were really glad to visit at this time of the year because there were so many baby animals.


This is a really beautiful corner of Franconia, and if you are up for a longer trip, you can ride your bike around the entire lake on the smooth bike paths and stop and swim in the lake on one of its beaches or join one of the many wind surfers.  There’s plenty to do here for the whole family.

Elder Flower Syrup

People, it is elder flower season and that means that it’s time for make elder flower syrup!

If you’re unfamiliar with the elderberry tress it can seem like every other green tree, but when the first warm days of late Spring and early summer roll around, you just can’t miss them.  Elderberry trees grow like weeds here in Germany.  Everywhere I have been in the last few weeks I have seen at least one. They grow on the sides of roads, at thw edge of rivers, in the midst of forest, along sidewalks, in the middle of farm fields…the list goes on.  They can be spotted by their large white flower clusters, and when you get close by their intensely sweet floral scent.


Making a syrup with the flowers is pretty easy and not very labor intensive.  And, afterwards you are rewarded withe a unique syrup for making your own sodas and cocktails year round.  My favorite combination is elder flower syrup topped off with spritzy water with a squirt of fresh lemon juice and Granada-Mint leaves muddled it – and served super cold of course!


For the syrup you will need:

20 Elder Flower clusters, debugged

400g Sugar

500ml Water

1 organic Lemon, cut into rounds

To prepare:

Place all your cleaned elder flower clusters in a large wide-mouthed jar or a bowl (if you use a bowl you may need more lemon rounds).

In a saucepan, heat water and sugar over high heat, stiring frequently, until all sugar is dissolved and the mixture has reached 80C.  Pour the simple syrup over the flowers while it is still hot.

Using the lemon rounds, layer them above the flowers the keep the flowers submerged beneath the syrup.  Let the syrup sit in a cool dark place – unrefridgerated – for 24 hours.

Strain syrup through a fine sieve and discard the flowers and lemons.  Place thw syrup in a sauce pan and heat it to 80C before pouring it into prepared jars for canning.  Pour into the jars and close with a lid and allow to sit on your counter, undisturbed for 24 hours.  Alternatively, you can leave you syrup uncanned and can use it immediately.  Once opened, keep refrigerated.

Makes about 1 Liter.

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 10

Ah, my friend the old rusty rooster, how I will miss you 4:30am calls.  We are up early and watch the sun rise on our balcony while enjoying a breakfast of local Canary fruits and coffee.

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The sun rises over the neighboring volcano and silence sets in.  We have to go back.  Why do we have to go back?

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We pack our bags and drive into Los Llanos to pick up our friend with whom we will go to the airport to.  We arrive early and drive to Parque Gómez Felipe –  a small Gaudi-styled park in Los Llanos.  And, as life would have it, there is a rooster walking around the playground.  I tell you, these things are like the plague.

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We enjoy our stroll and then travel on to the airport in Santa Cruz.  We whisk away into the air and watch the tiny island disappear behind us.

As we arrive in Frankfurt we are hit with a whiff of “city smell”.  It smell dirt and unnatural.  Odd how I never noticed that before.  Luckily it is hot and sunny here too so getting used to being back won’t be so hard.

The sun definitely shines differently here – it feels further away.  I will be back La Palma.  I will be back.

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 9

Today is our last full day on La Palma and it is starting to sink in that we will soon be leaving this paradise.  We decide to deive to the northeastern part of the island to hike the Cubo de la Galga.

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It is really nice and hot today as the sun shines down on us, we feel lucky to be here and get so much hiking in.  We enter the national park and make a comfortable hike for about 3 hours through forests full of long jurasic-sized blackberry vines.  The shade if the trees is a nice respite from the hot sun.

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Our entire hike takes us along the side of a creek bed filled with boulders.  About 2/3 of the way through we break through the crown of trees and are rewarded with a grand view of the neighboring islands of Tenerrifa and La Gomera off in the distance.

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My heart aches and I take in a deep breath to make a memory of such a wonderful place.  I will come back one day – it feels like home here.

We drive back home from our hike and enjoy one last home cooked meal on our balcony overlooking the Atlantic.  We watch the sun set and then sip a glass of Vegan Norte white wine under a blanket of stars.

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 8

Today we wake up, slowly enjoy breakfast on our patio overlooking the Atlantic and a huge platano plantation, and decide to take a break from hiking for a day and visiting a few places that we have driven past on our journeys.  It is a nice hot day, with a light cool breeze.  We get in our car and drive down to the tip of the island to the visit Las Salinas.  It is so barren and rocky here.

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We take a self guides tour along the different salt pools and discover a multitude of small sea birds that walk around the pools looking for food.  The salt is so beautiful glittering in the sun, and every once in a while we see sea foam swaying in the wind and clinging on to the black volcanic rocks.

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We walk all the way down to the tip of the island and can see the eastern and western Atlantic currents colliding off the coast.  It is very windy here and the waves breaking on the coast make for a spectacular view.

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Afterwards, we get in our car and make out way back north and spontaneously decided to take a detour to the town of Tazacorte.  It is a really beautiful small town with a lot of Spanish influences.  We take a stroll – which is a nice break from the endless winding roads on the island.

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We then hop back in out car and drive into Los Llanos where our friends live and meet then for dinner at the organic restaurant El Duende del Fuego.  The this an amazingly delicious dining experience.  The setting is very simple, the menu is full of dietary specialties (vegan, vegetarian, gluten free) all made of local products.  I ate a vegan Canary Rice with Artichokes and Garlic.  It was so flavorful.  We were also served potatoes with a guava dipping sauce.  I would never have paired the two, but guava and potato make a great team.  We each enjoyed a glass of a different Canary wine grown in the different volcanic regions of the island.  The flavors that sing through are absolutely amazing: peaches, passion fruit, cherry – all complements of the various minerals in the soil where the grape vines grow.  Simply put, volcanic wine is spectacular!

After a nice evening with our friends, we strolled through the quiet streets of Los Llanos.  In the distance a crow calls goodnight, and we head home to our apartment for a good nights sleep.

 

Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 7

Oh man, my buddy the rooster is really going at it this morning.  Maybe when roosters get older they lose track of time?  He’s a 4am kind of guy…

Finally, my alarm goes off to remind me how much longer I could have slept had the rooster been able to tell that it was still dark outside.  We are up very early, again, eating breakfast under the stars before meeting our friend for another hike.  Today, we are hiking to the top of El Bejenado – a huge mountain on La Palma , but my stomach is not feeling so well from the meal at Franchipani last night…and I have to really make myself get going.

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Our friend shows up, and we drive together to the base of the mountain to begin our hike.  Yet again, we wide around some crazy dirt roads with pot holes large enough to dislocate the axle of many a car, and we start our hike.  We don’t have a lot of gear with us this time – just water and some dried mango and dried canary platanos (which I could live off of if you could get them off the island).

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As we start our hike, I notice that the landscape has changed.  We are hiking on soft fine beige sand combined with jagged rocks on a path that snakes through really thick pine trees.  The smell is amazing.  The hot sun warms the sap in the local canary pine trees and it smells of tangy wood mixed with the salty Atlantic smoothly flowing in off the coast.  It is absolutely delicious, and I try to take in as much as possible – I want to remember this smell forever.

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The Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) is a very fascinating tree.  It is not only very drought-resistant, but also fire-resistant!  Our friend has told us a few times along our hikes about the occasional forest fire that breaks out on the island, burning everything in sight – except the trees!  The pine needles just grow back a year or two later, and life goes on.  Crazy.

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Our hike is rather comfortable, and, after a while, we make it to the top where we are rewarded with a spectacular view of the other Canary Islands of La Gomera, El Hiero, and Teneriffa.  On Teneriffa, shooting through the clouds, we can see the volcano of El Teide – Spain’s tallest mountain.  It didn’t feel like we had climbed so high, but everything down bellow looks so small – we are 1854 meters up in the clouds.  We sit down and soak in the view, and then make our way back down.  I have now chewed enough gum to settle my stomach, and can enjoy the decent even more.

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Once we get back “home” – this place grows on you quickly – we make a delicious dinner of corn spaghetti with a sweet and tangy tamarillo sauce from our farmer’s market’s bounty.  Afterwards, we enjoy it with a glass of local Vega Norte white wine (which tastes like creamy peaches!) while we watch the sunset over the horizon.  Every day could be like this.

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Hikers Paradise – La Palma, Canary Islands – Day 6

The first thought I had this morning, after a wonderful 10 hour sleep (!!!), is if the farmer sold his rooster.  I didn’t hear him this morning – just the faint calls of the neighbor roosters.  A few minutes later I was relieved to hear that he was still there…I might just have been too tired from yesterday’s hike to hear him.

It is late in the morning, and we enjoyed our breakfast of fruit and cereal grains with a hot cup of coffee while looking out over the ocean.  For the fourth time in the last few days, I watched a small speed boat head out south/south-west.  Where are they headed? …there is nothing out there.

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After breakfast, we headed out to Los Llanos.  We parked our car and asked an old white-haired lady with a cane if she could point us in the direction of the farmer’s market.  She consulted with two other ladies that just happened to be passing by, and the consensus is that we need to go 2 street over and walk straight down hill for 5 minutes until we run into the market.  The directions are right on, and we meander down yet another town of perfectly clean roads, quaint colorful houses, and gardens full of trees and flowers.

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We find the market at the end of the pedestrian zone, and walk through once before deciding to buy anything.  We return to the stands where we saw things that peaked our curiosity, and walked away with sweet-sour grapes, sweet tomatoes, huge red onions, pimentos del Padron, and a bag full of tangy tree tomatoes – all for a steel: 7,80€!!!

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We walk back to our car, purposely winding through tiny roads with more colorful houses – some just taller than I at the entrance.  We then quickly make our way home and make lunch – a skillet dish of potatoes, carrots, pimentos del Padron, onions, olives, tree tomatoes, and a hint of oregano.  Wow – the tree tomatoes are a tangy explosion of sweetly citrusy tomato softened potatoes in every bite.  Fantastic!

After lunch, we head off to the beach in El Remo – the salty smell in the air calms me and I am flooded with joyful feelings of my childhood.  I have not been on a beach in 8 years.  And, I have never seen a black sanded beach.

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We reach the beach – it is relatively small for a beach, but perfectly nudged in between volcanic rocks – like everything else around here.  The sand is hot – really hot.  We lay down on our mats and our towels, and still feel the burning heat soaked in by the island on our bodies.  The beach is pretty empty at 5:00pm.  The life guards have the red flag hanging high, forbidding everyone from swimming, it is high tide and there are strong rip currents.  An hour later, the yellow flags go up, the tide begins to subside, swimmers enter the lively waters, and the life guards stand directly on the beach to keep a close eye.  It is still not 100% safe, but the beach is starting to fill.  The sun is still high enough in the sky, and it will soon entertain everyone with a spectacular sunset.  As the tide falls, we walk to the water and cool our feet in the cold waves.  Every time a wave subsides back into the ocean, it reveals the end of the island…it just drops off a few meters in front of us.  How beautiful and scary at the same time.

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We make our way back home and rid ourselves of the cakey-feeling of sunscreen under the shower, and make our way off to dinner.  On our way we met our hostess, Karen, a really nice German lady who speaks with her hands like a true Spaniard.  She convinces us to change the restaurant we want to visit because they have a larger vegan selection.

We drive to Franchipani, and are seated in a small room with 3 large tall wooden tables.  The service is spectacular, and our waitress speaks German and Spanish.  We were delighted throughout the night with the service of a 1-star restaurant, but, unfortunately, the food was not as impressive.  The thought behind each dish was creative and well meant, but not well executed, and I left with indigestion from overly oiled food and a yogurt sauce that accidentally ended up on my vegan dish.  Such a shame…it was very promising.  I think I will move here one day and open a vacation rental complex with a restaurant down bellow.  I can definitely do better than this.

A beautiful stone house with red tile roof, reminiscent of the traditional Canary-style architecture of ages ago…with small apartments on either side of the house to rent.  In the middle is a restaurant that spills into a patio in a large garden where we will harvest the ingredients for the dishes we will prepare.  After a day’s work, I will sit out on my patio – all lights turned off on the property – and watch the amazing view of the stars and planets in the night’s sky.  This place is perfect.